Science Faculty Board repeatedly disregards its own quorum rule (23 September 2014)

Science faculty board (SFB) has been frequently meeting without a quorum, but transmitting purportedly official decisions from their meetings to senate without mentioning lack of quorum. I first noticed this with undergraduate calendar changes from 19 June 2014 once the minutes of that science faculty board meeting were first distributed three months later. Such lies of omission have been pervasive, with the current dean of science personally deciding whether a quorum is necessary. The dean of science recently wrote:

Quorum is indeed always a concern, and has long been a challenge at SFB even prior to my arrival. When there have been truly major issues (e.g. closure of Integrated Science), we have deferred discussion to ensure quorum is met for those matters.

The rules for operation of science faculty board (here), which the faculty of science wrote and were approved by senate, do not give the dean any such discretion regarding quorum. The rules are unambiguous – quorum is needed for all matters, both major and minor – and imply that any decisions arrived at without a quorum never really happened. Misrepresentations to senate about quorum could not only invalidate many calendar changes, but could potentially invalidate thousands of degrees if science faculty board approved graduation lists without quorum, which I suspect sometimes happened.

We all make mistakes and oversights and usually quickly learn from them. But in this case, the office of the dean of science willfully and knowingly broke the rules that their very office created. At any time, the dean of science or his four male associate/assistant deans (Jit Bose, Bob Burk, Dwight Deugo, Edward Lai) could have changed the quorum rules for science faculty board, only needing subsequent easy ratification by science faculty board and senate. Instead the office of the dean of science opted to flout and intentionally ignore its own official quorum rule, using the undisclosed personal judgment of the dean as a crude proxy.

Senate delegates authority to faculty boards because faculty boards provide local expertise and purportedly democratic inputs into senate decisions, such as calendar changes, program changes, and recommendations for graduation. For example, individual members of senate have no real basis for gauging the validity of graduation lists, so rely on faculty boards for their recommendations. However, we now see that this supposedly democratic process in science has been a sham. It would have been bad enough had science faculty board reported decisions to senate with the caveat that there was no quorum. But things were far worse because the key piece of information regarding quorum has been intentionally withheld from senate.

Calendar changes are not minor issues, despite the current dean’s implication. Science has several core full-service departments and several boutique departments. The core full-service departments offer a large numbers of first-year and second-year ‘service’ courses. The boutique departments then rely on the core departments for most of their student’s first- and second-year courses. The core departments need adequate representation at science faculty board meetings, i.e. a quorum, in order to not be unduly foisted upon by the boutique departments. For example, the new boutique health science program designed for non-pre-med students has a three-year general degree that requires their students to take the first-year honour’s biology course, not the less heavily subscribed first-year course designed for three-year biology majors and general degree students. This seemingly absurd health science requirement needs to be redressed if it had been approved by science faculty board without a quorum.

This fiasco about repeated intentionally undisclosed lack of quorum by science faculty board begs for two sets of actions: one to correct past harms and another set looking towards the future. The future is easier to deal with. All faculty boards at Carleton decide on their own quorum rules, subject to almost trivial ratification by senate, hence the very different quorum rules across faculty boards. For the future, one possibility is for science faculty board to propose a new quorum rule. Another alternative is to get the registrar’s office to timetable science courses for eligible science faculty board members so that they all have a time-block reserved for science faculty board meetings. If needed, we can ask contract instructors to teach during the time slot designated for science faculty board meetings.

The past harms are a bit harder to deal with. First, the office of the dean of science needs to report to senate exactly which decisions were promulgated without a quorum. Second, all such decisions without quorum need to be re-visited and re-voted on by science faculty board, senate, and all relevant committees. This needs to include re-certification of graduation of science students whose degrees were approved without a science faculty board quorum. This needs to include re-votes on nominations for graduation medals. Third, intentionally withholding information about lack of quorum is sufficiently disgraceful to be worthy of official censure by senate. Effective governance requires due process – deans are not above the law, bylaws that they themselves crafted.

As always, I truly welcome your feedback. For members of senate, feel free to discuss this matter with me at this week’s senate meeting on 26 September 2014. But realize that, despite my requests, this matter is not on the official senate agenda.

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